Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

The magic of the Sur Lípez


After the physical and emotional energy expended on riding the salars over the past few days, I decided to jump on a 3 day 4×4 tour to visit Bolivia’s other natural gem – the Sur Lípez region. The alternative would have been another 9 days or so of riding one some pretty inhospitable roads, carrying even more food and water than before, and spending freezing cold nights in the tent. I plumped for the softies option;).

The trip blew my mind.

The Sur Lípez is in the south west of Bolivia, running up to the border with Chile. It is a surreal landscape packed full of geological features – lakes, volcanoes, geysers, ice fields, salt pans, rock formations, pink flamingos, you name it. Around each mountain pass, some new and bizarre sight will make your eyes pop out of your head as the Andes mercilessly throws up rock, water and heat, moulding the earth’s surface and what grows on it. Driving on and on alongside 50km lava fields, my mind boggles at the sheer natural force needed to spew so much rock up into the air, and I wonder what such an event must have felt like round the world at the time it happened.

But rather than keep writing about it, here are some photos – which don’t remotely do the place justice – but to give you an inkling of the beauty of this surreal landscape.

Laguna Colorada – the coloured lake. The water is tinged red with algae and Borax deposits create large white pools on the surface. The lake is also home to the endangered James’ flamingo, native to the Andes.

Laguna Cañapa – home also to the Chilean and Andean flamingo

Hot geysers – fumaroles emanating toxic gas, with boiling volcanic lava and a strong smell of sulphur

The Andean Fox

Laguna Verde – the green lake. A salt lake with a suspension of arsenic and other minerals that colour the water. The hue varies from turquoise to dark emerald depending on disturbance caused to the sediments by the wind.

Miles and miles of lava fields

The Ice Fields – the ice looks like it’s been whipped up into piped peaks, all pointing in the direction of the wind.

The Árbol de Piedra – the tree of stone – giant boulders that have been hurled across the landscape and eroded by the wind into weird and wonderful shapes in seemingly impossible positions.

The mountain of 7 colours

The Natural Hot Springs

The Dalí Desert – a barren, wind-swept desert thought to resemble paintings by Salvador Dalí

A visit back to the Salar de Uyuni and the Isla Incahuasi

These cactus plants grow 1cm every 10 years

A pit stop to fix a flat tyre on another 4×4 – took them all of 5 minutes

Messing around on the Salar de Uyuni

The train cemetery – apparently the trains were built in France and the UK. I tried to find evidence of any being from Derby (where various members of the Brindley family have built trains in the past), but alas no joy.

5 thoughts on “The magic of the Sur Lípez

  1. hi sarah!! we met in humahuaca, as promised i went through your blog and i like it very much. can’t wait for the next posts. it was very nice meeting you.
    saludos!!! Andrés


  2. All looks amazing! And most importantly – you look very happy!!! Miss you, Sarah! 🙂


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